Woody Allen on casting 'lovely' Emma Stone and 'charmingly erratic' Joaquin Phoenix in 'Irrational Man'

"When you get Joaquin, you automatically get a very troubled, kind of confused character," Allen says of his lead actor in "Irrational Man."
By Karen Butler  |  July 30, 2015 at 10:48 AM
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NEW YORK, July 30 (UPI) -- Woody Allen says he knew early on he would try to get Emma Stone to play one of the female leads in Irrational Man, but the Oscar-winning filmmaker insists Parker Posey's and Joaquin Phoenix's appearances in his new comedy were the direct results of conversations with his talented casting director.

The film is about how the arrival of Abe, a brilliant, but depressed, philosophy professor, causes a stir on a college campus, with both married teacher Rita and beautiful student Jill attempting to coax him out of his malaise. After Abe and Jill overhear a woman complain about an unfavorable, child-custody arrangement she expects from a judge who is friendly with her ex-husband, Abe decides to kill the judge to give the stranger a fair chance. Planning the man's murder gives Abe a new lease on life, leaving Rita and Jill to wonder why he suddenly has a sunnier outlook.

"Well, I didn't start with anyone in mind, but very quickly in there, when I was on page 15 or 20, I thought: 'Oh God, who's going to play this but Emma Stone? Who's lovely and beautiful, projects intelligence, gets away with a college age... even though she's a little older than college-age?'" Allen recalled at a recent New York press conference where he was seated beside Posey. "You know, [Stone's] perfect, absolutely perfect. And I was fortunate that I had just had a wonderful experience with her on a movie, you know. She was available and very interested in doing it."

Allen and Stone previously collaborated on 2014's Magic in the Moonlight.

"I love her, yeah. She's great," Allen gushed. "Emma's going to be a huge, huge star. She's got everything. She's beautiful, she's bright, she can sing and she can dance. She's sexy. She can act dramatically. She's funny, and she's got that quality that -- just the quality that June Allyson had, where everybody just loves her. Whenever I say, 'Oh, Emma Stone is in the movie,' [people respond,] 'Oh, I love Emma Stone!' You know, and I know why. She's just adorable."

Allen went on to confess he didn't immediately think of Phoenix -- a three-time Oscar nominee with a history of bizarre interactions with the media -- for the role of Abe.

"I went through the script and I thought to myself, 'I want to get somebody that's really attractive, really handsome.' There used to be a teacher in New York... who was very attractive. I think he was Creole, very brilliant and very great-looking. His students used to fall in love with him and he was a great ladies' man and a great, charismatic character. And I thought, 'That's what I should go get.' I should go get... Brad Pitt, or whoever you think is handsome. Leo DiCaprio. That's what I was thinking, and in talking it over with Juliet Taylor, Joaquin's name came up, and it was haunting. And we thought, 'Gee, maybe it should be Joaquin.' When you get Joaquin, you automatically get a very troubled, kind of confused character. It's all over his body language and his looks and his speech rhythm. So, then we went with him, but he was an after-thought. Emma was a middle-of-the-road thought. It became clear that she was great for it."

Pressed to describe what Rita and Jill find so alluring about Abe, Allen replied: "He's interesting. His neurosis is interesting. He's very bright and he's all screwed up, and you have a tendency to want to help those people.

"He's a fascinating kind of guy, and Joaquin has got that built into him. If he was here now, you'd want to help him. He's very charmingly erratic. I think I phrased that very tactfully."

The auteur credited Taylor with proposing Posey play the unhappily married professor Rita.

"I didn't know her. I mean, I knew the name. Everybody knows the name because it's such a silly name," Allen quipped. "It was a very provocative name and it was actually Juliet Taylor, my casting director, who said that she had just run into Parker and chatted with her somewhere in Europe, and that Parker seemed to her a very good possibility for this role. And as soon as Parker came into our cutting room where we interview actors, the second we saw her, Juliet knew, but the second I saw her, I thought she would be absolutely perfect for it. And it turned out that she was better than perfect. She made a contribution to the role far in excess of what I wrote. Very often you'll write a character and you write it, and it's OK, and then you luck out and you get an actor or actress who brings something to it and it's suddenly -- and you get the credit for it as the writer and director -- but the truth is, the actor has brought some kind of flare or personality to it, way above and beyond the relatively bland character that you wrote."

Asked to weigh in on how differently the experienced Rita and idealistic Jill perceive Abe, Posey told UPI during the panel: "Joaquin's character is like the minotaur in the maze and the women are shining a light in his darkness, who are compelled and attracted and are flirting, you know, with the irrational man for whatever reason.

"For me, Rita just is teetering on her fantasy that he represents and she is conscious and unconscious of it, as we see her, you know?" Posey noted. "She has experienced many loves and is in a marriage that is not very potent. So, she has this fantasy and the timing is everything. We see the timing come to her in this kind of mystical way, and then it's taken away from her. I love this movie, so I'm looking at it from the outside now since I've seen it once. It's a very female story, the awareness and the consciousness -- the women who survive these irrational men in this society right now. ... You don't make decisions with these things. You know? She's in a fantasy. We meet people with our fantasies. And how and why we're susceptible to that is a mystery."

"There's no preconceived method to it," Allen told UPI about writing the differing perspectives of his two beautiful, intelligent, female characters. "You have an idea for story. In this case, the idea that he overhears something and decides he's going to kill the person, and then the decision, the existential decision, changes his life. And you write the characters that he comes across. It's all instinctive, and then you write the women. You know, there's no preconceived notion to it. It's all instinctive as the story plays out. Whereas in Blue Jasmine, I had a very clear story of a woman in great detail in my mind, coming from many things my wife told me about a neighborhood person."

Irrational Man is in theaters now.

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